Initiative encourages families to share meals, lives
By KATIE LEFEBVRE, Globe staff reporter
Sept. 13, 2007
A routine for the Tony and Sue Van Acker family of Fort Dodge is to sit down
each evening for a family meal.
All families throughout the United States and the Diocese of Sioux City are
encouraged to sit down together for a meal on Family Day - A Day to Eat Dinner
with Your Children Sept. 24.
"It is a day to have good food, great conversation and lots of
laughs," said Vera Ludwig, coordinator of family programs for the Diocese
of Sioux City.
The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia
University launched Family Day in 2001 after CASA's research consistently found
that the more often children eat dinner with their families, the less likely
they are to smoke, drink or use drugs.
"There are more benefits beyond substance abuse. Kids who have regular
family dinners are more likely to have better self-esteem because they are
talking to their family. They are more likely to get better grades in
school," said Ludwig.
Family Day encourages parents to frequently eat dinner with their kids and be
involved in their children's lives.
"It teaches them to take time to reunite as a family every day and get
to know each other a little bit better," said Sue Van Acker.
"Otherwise you just see each other in passing and don't actually get to
know each other and how each other's days went."
The Family Day Web site states, "The conversations that go hand-in-hand
with dinner help parents learn more about their kids' lives and helps them to
better understand the challenges their kids face."
CASA along with TV Land and Nick at Nite's Family Table: Share More Than
Meals initiative held a pledge drive that resulted in a two-year total of more
than 1.7 million Americans pledging to eat with their families on Family Day.
"The generation I grew up in most kids had family dinners," said
Ludwig. "Thirty years ago it was more of a common thing and you would be
considered an odd family if you didn't have a family dinner. Now it is the other
way around. Today's families are less likely to have family dinners. We have
gotten away from having family dinners, having family conversations and having
time for each other."
Families can make meals special by choosing different prayers, making dinner
together, taking turns setting the table and spending time talking.
"The church considers the family the domestic church," said Ludwig.
"If the domestic church is not communicating, there is a break down. It is
not as healthy as it could be."
It is never too early to start the family dinner tradition.
"I think family dinners are a dying tradition and they need to be
revived," said Ludwig. "It is important to spend time together and
having a meal together is one of the ways to do that. If you haven't started the
tradition, go ahead and start it. It is a wonderful time to build bonds."
The four Van Acker children, Cindy, 7, Joe, 5, Thomas, 3, and Eva, 19 months,
help with the preparation of the meal and get to decide what vegetable they
"They are an integral part of the whole dinner not just the sitting down
to eat it," said Sue Van Acker.
Before the meal starts, the family says a prayer together. Each of the
children has a favorite prayer, she said.
"Our normal prayer is one that we shortened," said Sue Van Acker.
"Tony's mother had given us a list of all kinds of different prayers before
we had children. When we did have the kids, we looked at the different prayers
and came up with something that would be easy for them, considering their
The prayer they say is, "Lord may the food we eat and the love we share
strengthen our family." The mother said the simple prayers are the ones the
children remember the most.
The Van Acker's son, Joe, just started kindergarten and at lunch he said a
"He came home from school and said, 'I said my prayers, but I don't
think anyone else said any today,'" said Sue Van Acker. "We never
asked him to say his prayers at school. He just does it because we say prayers
Not only do the Van Acker's share dinner together, they also go on walks
together, visit other family members, read together as well as many other
For more information about Family Day or to pledge to have a family dinner on
Sept. 24, visit the CASA Web site at www.CASAFamilyDay.org.